Anticipating fraudulent activity in the wake and cleanup efforts after Hurricane Irma, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida has created a Disaster Fraud Task Force to investigate, prosecute and deter fraud.
The Disaster Fraud Task Force was created in anticipation of fraudulent activity in connection with federal disaster relief following Hurricane Irma, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida announced on Wednesday in a news release. The Middle District of Florida includes 35 of Florida’s 67 counties, including Manatee County, and serves more than 11.5 million Florida residents with offices in Jacksonville, Orlando, Ocala, Tampa and Fort Myers.
“We will aggressively investigate and prosecute anyone who seeks to defraud or exploit the federal assistance programs established to help individuals, families, or businesses that have lost so much as a result of Hurricane Irma,” said Acting U.S Attorney Muldrow in an issued statement.
Residents and businesses are urged to immediately report any suspected fraudulent activity that is connected to recovery and cleanup operations, fake charities claiming to be providing relief for victims and people submitting false claims for disaster relief. They are also urged to be diligent before giving donations or accepting assistance by anyone.
Suspected fraud can be reported to the National Disaster Fraud Hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week toll free at 866-720-5721. Reports can also be emailed to email@example.com or faxed to 225-334-4707. For more information, visit: justice.gov/usao-mdfl.
Residents should still report fraud, price gouging and other fraudulent schemes to agencies and hotlines established by the State of Florida, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Our Office will continue to protect the rights of our honest citizens affected by this disaster and ensure that they receive the necessary public and charitable assistance they deserve,” Muldrow said. “If you suspect any fraud, we urge you to call the NCDF Hotline. Our efforts to combat fraud associated with Hurricane Irma will supplement the outstanding and ongoing efforts by the State of Florida and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.”
The task force, which will be headed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg, will include a team of prosecutors who will work closely with federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners.
The task force will also work closely with the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud, which was created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, the center has expanded and now investigates any suspected fraud from any natural or man-made disaster.